Browns Tailgaters Grumble About Drinking Crackdown

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A dark mood mixed with the smell of grilled meat in a parking lot outside Cleveland Browns stadium before Friday night's preseason game between the Browns and Carolina Panthers.

As police patrolled the lot, longtime tailgaters grumbled about the crackdown on drunk and disorderly behavior at the fans' pregame picnics.

"It's like a funeral down here. People are really not enjoying themselves like they used to," John Flauto of Northfield said as he surveyed the half-empty lot before the game.

Mayor Jane Campbell said on Thursday that there would be more police in municipal parking lots near the stadium to enforce city laws against drinking alcohol on public property.

"The city of Cleveland is not attempting to eliminate tailgating," she said. "In Cleveland, tailgating is part of our football tradition."

But, she said, "what is not part of our tradition is drunken and disorderly behavior."

Campbell said that police will not randomly search people in the parking lots, but will check the containers of anyone engaged in disorderly or disruptive behavior.

Two people were arrested in the lot for underage drinking, police Sgt. Jacqueline Lewis said. The number of tailgaters cited for such things as disorderly conduct may not be known until early next week, she said.

The consensus in the parking lots is that the crackdown is a response to the final home game last year when fans rained plastic beer bottles on the field to protest a critical call that went against the Browns.

"They don't need to punish the 90 percent of us who aren't doing anything wrong," said Mike Eblin of Lakewood. "The city took a black eye for the bottle thing last year and this is the mayor's way of making things nice."

Bill Buehl of Hudson decorated his RV with a banner calling for the ouster of the mayor.

"You've got an empty lot here. Instead of people paying 10 bucks to park, they're staying home, and the city is paying to fill the place with cops," he said.

Jason Vaughn of Richfield, leaning against an orange car with a brown and white stripe along the roof and hood, said with disgust, "They are completely taking the fun out of the games."

But Deputy Chief Kevin Kilbane, standing with a cluster of officers at the lot entry, dismissed the complaints.

"We're just here to make sure everybody has a good time,and safety is the key," Kilbane said. "A couple of people have come up and told us they appreciate us being here. There is not as much rowdy behavior."

Tony Schaefer, wearing a bone helmet, dog ears and Browns boxer shorts stood in front of his brown bus, the Mobile Dawg Pound, and praised the police.

"There have been a lot of idiots here," Schaefer said. "I'm glad they're cleaning it up."

Schaefer then sauntered off to offer the police the leftover burgers from his grill.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)